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A CurtainUp London Review
The Jungle

"A refugee dies many times> — Okot
The Jungle Ammar Haj Ahmad as Safiand Ben Turner as Salar (Photo: Marc Brenner)
The Playhouse Theatre is unrecognisable for the immersive production of The Jungle which recreates the bustling atmosphere and setting of the migrant camp outside Calais where people waited for the opportunity to cross the Channel illegally to the UK. Every so often we hear the roar as the extra fast Eurostar train passes nearby on its way to the Eurotunnel connecting France and England.

We are seated in the Afghani restaurant ran by Salar (Ben Turner) on bare benches with a narrow table. Underfoot is soil and banners hang from the Circle where people are seated conventionally. It is 16th February 2016 and we have been summoned to an emergency meeting in the restaurant to talk about another proposed eviction of the Jungle. Some of the migrants will try to board lorries en route to Kent and during the meeting the news comes in that a child has been killed on the motorway.

The French authorities propose to break up the camp by bulldozing the homes, some of them makeshift. The police use tear gas and helicopters as they start to destroy the camp, but first we are taken back to the beginnings of the settlement.

The name The Jungle comes from an Eastern word for the forest Jangal which corrupted to Jungle. We meet the charity workers from Britain who have been sent to work with the refugees. Sam (Alex Lawther) is a young man who seems to be on his GAP year between school and university but who has good planning skills in organising shelter. Sam describes the camp as "Glastonbury without the toilets."

Boxer (Trevor Fox) is a Geordie with years of experience, Paula (Jo McInnes) works looking after the children, especially the unaccompanied minors, Derek (Dominic Rowan) in his thirties is a seasoned charity worker and Beth (Rachel Redford) is like Sam straight from school. The charitable response is haphazard and unco-ordinated.

The camp is divided along nationality lines, tensions evident between the Eritreans, Sudanese and the Afghans but we hear that although they are fighting at home, in the Jungle Sunni and Sufi worship together. We follow some individual stories: Helene (Nahel Tzegai) the woman from Eritrea who has travelled across Africa to Tripoli and then to Lampedusa in Italy and that of Okot (John Pfumojena), a young English speaker from Dafur who has escaped the Sudanese civil war.

Okot's journey is described in detail across the Sahara and the ordeal he suffered. In Libya before crossing the Mediterranean, the smugglers hold them in what they call "mazraha", a warehouse, where they cannot make any noise, just sleep and eat waiting to be taken to the boat.

Okot is befriended by Beth after he is caught in the Tunnel and they encounter a French security guard. We are reminded of a noman's land when the guard says, "This is not France." Beth wants to take the injured Okot to a hotel and the narrator Safi (Ammar Haj Ahmad) reminds her that in France it is illegal to aid refugees and that one cannot stay in a French hotel without papers. Beth finds the money to help Okot to cross to England and we meet the ruthless Kurdistani people smuggler who is paid to stow people in container trucks.

We hear the reaction of the French to the Paris terrorist attacks and the blame attributed to the Jungle as people question how the terrorists entered France. Things change momentarily when the photograph of the body of a drowned Syrian toddler is washed up on a Greek beach. In the play a child Little Almal (Lara Alpay) delightfully represents the children in the camp, many of them unaccompanied minors.

The authors Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson ran The Good Chance Theatre in the Jungle refugee and migrant camp in Calais and this play is their first hand experiences living there for seven months until the eviction of the southern half of the camp in 2015. Later they built Encampment a major festival on the South Bank of the Thames opposite the British Parliament with a programme run by 110 artists who were former inhabitants of the camp.

Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, The Jungle will promote understanding and inform but is inevitably preaching to a self selected audience of the converted. Sitting next to me was an elaborately dressed and bejewelled young woman who could mouth the words to the song sung by Omar (Mohamed Sarrar, a former inhabitant of the Jungle and refugee) but who was eating her ice cream noisily and looking at her mobile phone through the performance. She stood at the curtain call.

The performances are wonderful, Ben Turner's restaurant owner, Ammar Haj Ahmad as the Syrian professor Safi who guides us through the play and Jonathan Nyati as Mohammed the leader of the Sudanese who represents his people. Alex Lawther's Sam has both youthful impetuosity but feels the frustration of trying to achieve progress in an increasingly desperate situation as the camp is cleared section by section. Miriam Buether's detailed set makes The Jungle an unmissable event. I was sent seventy images of which I have to choose one. The closing scene is of the invasion of the bulldozers, the search lights and the tear gas.

Sanguine but unmissable!

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The Jungle
Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson
Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin
Starring: Dominic Rowan, Mohammad Amiri, Trevor Fox, Ammar Haj Ahmad, Alex Lawther, Jo McInnes, Jonathan Nyati, John Pfumojena, Rachel Redford, Mohammad Sarrar, Ben Turner
With: Tiran Aakel, Alexander Devrient, Elham Ehsas, Moein Ghobsheh, Cherno Jagne, Kiki Kendrick, Sara Mokonen, Yasin Moradi, Rachid Sabitri, Eric Sirakian, Nahel Tzegai, Lara Alpay/Aliya Ali, Alyssa de Souza, Erin Rushidi
Set Design: Miriam Buether
Costume Design: Catherine Kodicek
Lighting Design: Jon Clark
Composer: John Pfumojena
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Video: Duncan McLean and Tristan Shepherd
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7631
Booking to 3rd November 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th July 2018 performance at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Ave, London WC2N 5DE (Tube: Embankment)
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